Anatomy of the Baby Braves
2013 was the last time the Atlanta Braves were relevant. 96 wins and the division title in the rear view, the next year brought massive disappointment. In 2014 the same nucleus fell to 79 wins and 17 games out of first. After that season, the handwriting was on the wall; it was time to tear it down.
Atlanta was trying to compete vs. two young talented teams in their division (Mets and Nationals) with an aging and under performing roster. Over paid players that couldn’t hit the Mendoza line, like B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla were handcuffing a mid level market team like the Braves. Jason Heyward and Ervin Santana were coming up on free agency, and other players that wouldn’t be affordable by the time the rebuild was complete became casualties too.
Craig Kimbrel was paired with B.J. Upton, sorry ‘Melvin’ (pfft..), to save $82m over the next 3 years. Matt Wisler and the draft pick that became 3B phenom Austin Riley (most likely starting by late this year/early next year for years to come) was the gain. Earlier in that same draft, the Braves drafted Mike Soroka. That young man just joined the staff this week and looks to be a fixture for years to come. Justin Upton was dealt to SD too for Max Fried. That opened more money, plus got an unhappy camper out of town, after moving his brother. Justin later signed a 6/132.75m contract that Atlanta never could have competed with.
Evan Gattis was traded to Houston for the number 2 starter today, Mike Foltynewicz. All-world glove Andrelton Simmons was then traded to the LA Angels for today’s number 3 starter Sean Newcombe, and the then number one prospect in the Angels system.
After a phenomenal year in 2015 by SP Shelby Miller, the Braves finagled number one over all pick Dansby Swanson and gold glove centerfielder Endy Inciarte from the Diamondbacks.
Now starting RF and number 2 hitter Ronald Acuna was signed in 2014 in the international free agent pool out of Venezuela. Second baseman and lead off hitter Ozzie Albies was signed in the international free agent pool in 2013. Two unbelievable finds that were cultivated by the minor league system remarkably.
Other additional moves and picks that have been overlooked have been key as well. Veteran back-stops that swing a decent bat like Suzuki and Flowers have been huge in the development of this young staff. Preston Tucker, Camargo and Flaherty have been invaluable assets on and off the bench each day. Veterans in the rotation like Annibal Sanchez and Brandon McCarthy have helped develop a young staff and keeping them focused. Last, but not least, 2011 rookie Freddie Freeman seems like the old man in the group. He’s only 28 and one of the best bats in all of Major League Baseball.
Hind sight is always 20/20, but the now departed John Hart looks like a genius. Though the last three years have been a brutal ride for the die hard Braves fan base, it has all become worth it today. This is a young team that has players with years of control. These kids will definitely have growing pains, and still might be a year and free agent period away from really taking off, but the dark days are definitely well behind this club.
It’s still just the beginning of May, but the Braves are for real. A real threat in the NL EAST. Electric offense, good starting pitching and a formidable bullpen mix of young and old. The 2018 Braves look to be just around the corner from the kind of run the 2016 Cubs and 2017 Astros went on. Still a couple of front line starters away, and probably won’t mortgage the farm for just one year, but the Braves are a threat. If they make it in, they’re going to be a tough out. If they don’t make it, they’ll make life a living hell for New York and Washington all summer. Either way 2019 and beyond looks to be a Brave new world.